“Russian World” in America: Time of Troubles for Good People

Written by The Frontier Post

Andrey Shitov

When a couple of months ago we made an appointment in Moscow with American Sharon Tennyson, I invited her to my office, offering to show TASS from the inside. But she refused: “No, I won’t go straight to the lion’s den.” Presumably, this meant the status of the oldest and largest news agency in Russia as a bastion of not only information, but also propaganda work. Americans shy away from the word “propaganda” like hell; I don’t see anything shameful in him – and not only because of my Soviet past, but also because, having lived half my life overseas, I was convinced that the local agitprop washes out the brains of its own and foreign citizens like the Soviet one never dreamed of …

Recognizable image

That Sharon and I didn’t know each other before, it still seems a little strange to me, because she’s trying even longer than mine to help her and our compatriots to know and understand each other better. As she herself said at the meeting, she first arrived in Moscow in September 1983, that is, even before the first and last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, came to power in the Kremlin.

Although for me the correspondence acquaintance with her was associated not with the Soviet, but with the current Russian leader. A long time ago, when not only overseas, but also in our own country, many puzzled over “who is Vladimir Putin,” I came across Tennyson’s printed story about how she once came to see the current president, when he was still an official of the mayor’s office of St. Petersburg. I was impressed by this recollection of an accidental foreign eyewitness, although outwardly there was absolutely nothing remarkable about it. Putin in this story, in my opinion, looks recognizable to this day.

According to Sharon, the case was in 1992. Together with one of her St. Petersburg acquaintances, she came to the mayor’s office to push through some of her next projects of bilateral cooperation – one of those with which, according to her, she always gushed. She remembered the chairman of the city committee for external relations, who received them, first of all by the fact that he suddenly began to … thoroughly delve into her proposal.

“Other Soviet officials always agreed on the fly to everything that was offered to them, and explained how much they wanted for consent,” the American says from her experience of communicating with the then bureaucrats. “And I was quite ready to hear from Putin, they say, okay, I don’t mind Can you arrange a trip for me to the USA? Or put my daughter in an American college for a year? “

“Instead, he began to carefully study my proposal, which I had set out in Russian,” recalls the interlocutor. “I marked something in the text, asked something in addition. pen and said: “You know, the proposal is good, necessary. But at the moment there is no legal basis for it. So excuse me, I can’t sign … “And I began to say goodbye.”

Part of the “Russian world”

Tennyson never saw Putin in person again, although she did communicate with his assistants. She continued, as it was previously called, “to build bridges of understanding and cooperation” between America and Russia through her nongovernmental Center for Civil Initiatives. She arranged, in particular, in the United States, training programs and internships for hundreds of young Russian entrepreneurs, by the way, placing special emphasis on the fight against corruption. And now they are again preparing to take another delegation to Russia next summer – this time led by former US Ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock. Although her children have already retired and are wondering when the mother will finally calm down.

Actually, it all started with children. For the sake of their peaceful future, Sharon began at one time to cultivate the field of civil diplomacy, coming up with and implementing all new initiatives. Some of them have been going on for decades – like, for example, the charitable projects of the Russian American Niki Thayer, which I had not even heard about before she told me about them.

Now I found out that the daughter of the White Guard General Mikhail Pleshkov, who was born in 1919 in Vladivostok (her father was in command of the Knox school there), and who died in 2008 in the United States, kept the memory of her historical homeland all her life, worried about her fate and tried to help Russian children, especially girls. At the expense of her family charitable foundation Thayer-Townsend Foundation, computer classes were equipped in orphanages in St. Petersburg (by the way, students of the local university conducted classes), and expensive surgeries for infants with cerebral palsy and cardiovascular diseases were paid for. The work continues after the death of the philanthropist: according to her will, she left over $ 2.5 million for this purpose.

The generous posthumous gift was, by the way, a complete surprise for Sharon herself, who organized the computer project. It was called “Angels for Angels”. But Nika Pleshkova-Thayer was not an angel, but a normal person of flesh and blood and an American patriot. As I read in her obituary, during the Second World War she worked at the army courses of the Russian language at Yale University, later served as a decoder in Washington (I suspect that as part of the famous “Venona” – a secret program to decipher intercepted Soviet diplomatic, intelligence, trade and other official reports; many women were employed there), and after the war she worked for a long time at Radio Liberty, one of the main mouthpieces of foreign policy propaganda in the United States.

These words from the song, as they say, also cannot be thrown out. And no one is going to embellish anything – why? And the same Sharon not only recalls how she and Nika discussed the salutary nature of the changes taking place in Russia, but also always emphasizes that she does not consider herself a “Putin apologist”, but only opposes his rabid demonization, which is harmful to America itself : on the part of those to whom the luck of the Russians is like a bone across the throat. She is convinced that the main source of this demonization is not even fear of Putin, but precisely the unwillingness for him and his country to achieve success.

I am writing about this now to emphasize that for me Tennyson and others like her are as much an integral part of the “Russian world” in the United States as Pleshkova-Thayer and other direct descendants of emigrants from Russia. I personally knew and know other people across the ocean who are close to our country in spirit, and not only in blood. Just remember Catherine Wasserman-Davis (1907–2013) – the legendary philanthropist, whose name is given to the most prestigious American centers for the study of our country (in particular, at Harvard and Princeton Universities and the Heritage Foundation); Telling me about herself and her interest in Russia, she mentioned in passing that Lenin “had not been found” alive, but she specially went to listen to Stalin at one of the Moscow rallies.

When we met “Grandma Katya” in a small town near New York, she was 102 years old. At the present time in the United States – even cry, even laugh – she, apparently, would have a direct road to “foreign agents”. But I would look at that person – even in Congress, even in the White House, not to mention the special services – who would dare to throw such an accusation at her …

“From Students to Senior Citizens”

Perhaps even fortunately that Davis did not live up to the current new rampant anti-Russian witch-hunt in the United States. Others like another old acquaintance of mine, now also the late New York historian-Sovietologist Stephen Cohen, in their declining years had to wash off the dirt that overseas Russophobes, posing as defenders of “liberal values and ideals”, tried to shed. Therefore, I do not want to name people who are currently living, so as not to bring unnecessary trouble on them.

Although it would not have been difficult. The diaspora is large (according to the US Census Bureau for 2017, at that time 889,707 Americans spoke Russian at home; for foreign languages, this was the seventh largest indicator in the country), it has many well-educated and successful people. I have always followed their achievements and wrote about them with pride. The mood among them is different, but judging by my own rather extensive circle of acquaintances, I am inclined to think that normal people who want good for both America and Russia (more precisely, their native countries, since there are many Russian-speaking people from different parts of the former USSR) are overwhelming majority. Our country and Native Americans have many sincere friends.

Nevertheless, times for them now, of course, are not easy. The Coordinating Council of Organizations of Russian Compatriots in the United States (KSORS) recently announced the suspension of its activities. He pointed out that over the past year “at least three hundred Russian compatriots in the United States, from students to pensioners, have been subjected to investigative measures by the FBI.” In this regard, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that “such actions lead to further degradation of Russian-American relations,” and demanded “an immediate end to the politically motivated persecution of our fellow citizens in the United States.”

” Voluntary – compulsory ” methods

In fact, the pressure began, of course, not in the last year, but much earlier. Ask about this at least Maria Butina with her sensational story . And I don’t have to go far for examples, I can start at least with myself. I, too, were two good fellows from the US intelligence services (this is my guess, they did not show any documents, they introduced themselves only by name) four years ago they persuaded me to stay in America – after their colleagues canceled my work journalistic visa.

They came to my house (I did not let them into the apartment, they talked in the gym at the entrance) and offered, so to speak, to voluntarily and compulsorily join the same Russian-American diaspora. I will not say, of course, that this is the main method of its formation (in general, in my opinion , the craving in the “American vacuum cleaner” is created mainly by envy and greed), but as far as I know, it never did and does not do without direct enticement. Moreover, according to my diplomatic friends, in recent years, more and more often and with the use of rather dirty methods, including false medical diagnoses.  

Then the “two from the casket” lagged behind me only after I said: since you are offering me “help in solving my visa problems,” let an employee of our embassy go with me for an interview with your superiors. All the same, I will have to explain to my own management where the visa that I had taken away from before suddenly came from.

Here the uninvited guests finally took offense at me for my “lack of understanding” and answered with annoyance in the spirit of a quote from our well-known comedy: they say they don’t need a blacksmith. Later I described all this , as I had warned them, in my book about working in America.

Life under the hood

It is possible to supplement my subjective personal impressions with a completely official example. The honorary consuls of Russia in the United States in January 2016, that is, even during the administration of Barack Obama, were deprived of their accreditations. I know a good half of these people personally, there are also our compatriots among them.

It should be clarified that honorary consuls are not involved in politics, but mainly help people on the ground to solve pressing everyday problems. For example, a Christmas story brought us together with my good friend Natasha Owen, who was an honorary consul first in Hawaii and then in California: in 1999, on Christmas Day, she helped through the American military to find and deliver to our Primorye a shunt that was urgently needed by a patient child for surgery. And in the future, Natasha was mainly engaged in helping children. I was and will be convinced that by depriving her and other “civilian diplomats” of the right to officially work on solving such problems, the American authorities took not only a politically erroneous and harmful step for both sides, but also an absolutely inhuman and immoral step.

As for “looking after” the Russian-speaking community in the United States, there is nothing fundamentally new in it. Special services overseas have always kept our compatriots under a hood. I know this for certain, for example, because at one time, on anniversary occasions, I requested from the FBI and received, on the basis of the freedom of information law, archival data on Russian writers who lived in America, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Joseph Brodsky and Sergei Dovlatov. Everything is described in the TASS editions and in the same book.

By the way, I will note that the members of KSORS I know, with whom I have talked in recent days, did not express much indignation about the development of events. First, their own organizations that make up the coordinating council continue to work quietly. Secondly, people proceed from the fact that they have lived, live and, most likely, will live under the tacit supervision of American security officials. Moreover, one woman expressed confidence that the US authorities have every right to be interested in what local citizens are doing who maintain contact with their historical homeland. Of course, within the framework of the law, since American democracy is generally based on the dictatorship of the law. And therefore, this compatriot of ours, according to her, never accepts any material support from the Russian side – even in the form, for example,

Haste diminished

It is another matter, of course, that until recently the US authorities publicly tried to put a good face on a bad game. They gave the impression that no outside influence bothers them at all.

Well, this is also not a Newton binomial. Demagogically, this was always explained by the triumph of all and all liberal liberties, but in essence it was based on the right of force. While the leaders in Moscow allowed a condescending pat on the back, Americans reasonably believed they had little to worry about. Recall, for example, their treacherous “development” through NATO of the post-Soviet space in violation of the promises they made to Gorbachev. Or, say, the bombing of Belgrade in spite of the protests of “Boris’s friend”, that is, Boris Yeltsin.

Now Russia not only demands a conversation on equal terms, but in fact surpasses the United States in its ability to create “facts on the ground,” and not only in its near abroad, but also in such remote hot spots as Syria or Afghanistan. He does not bow to Western mentors and sponsors, but strengthens friendly ties with China, India and other partners. He does not blindly borrow more and more strange dogmas of modern liberal political correctness, but relies on traditional values and healthy conservatism. Which, as Putin said, quoting Nikolai Berdyaev, does not interfere with moving “up and forward”, but does not allow sliding “back and down, into chaos.”

Well, who would like such self-sufficiency? In any case, not to Washington, which is accustomed to feeling itself as the arbiter of world destinies, the main source of not only strength, but also truth. So he accuses Russia of “harmful interference” everywhere and everywhere, including the internal political processes in the United States itself. And demonstratively tightens the screws in relation to everyone who may be somehow connected with Russia. Of course, this is not a sign of strength, but of weakness – the fact that the US has diminished arrogance.

I have long wanted to think about all this and write, but there was no reason. Thanks to the President, who in a recent speech at the Russian Foreign Ministry set the task “to increase attention to strengthening ties with compatriots living abroad, protecting their interests and preserving the all-Russian cultural identity.” And rightly so: it’s time to collect stones.

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